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Urban-Think Tank

Urban-Think Tank (U-TT) is an interdisciplinary design studio dedicated to high-level research and design at a variety of scales, principally concerned with contemporary architecture and urbanism. Founded in 1993 by Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner, the practice has maintained a strong investigatory and educational component as it has explored challenging urban conditions throughout the world.

Several themes emerge in their work:

First, with an emphasis on the informal, and the self-­built, U­TT argues that 21st century architecture represents a stark departure from 19th and 20th century models because cities are already quite built up. This leaves opportunities for open space and transitory projects which reinterpret unbuilt areas .  Increasingly, the older ideas regarding centralized master planning and developer ­driven building are being excluded.  U­TT’s work, therefore, focuses on systems by which people can begin to participate in the construction of their own built environment at multiple scales.

Second, U-TT has prompted an exploration of the vertical in addressing dense slum conditions and urban neighborhoods.  To residents of New York or Tokyo, the notion of building vertical is a familiar urban concept. However, in many slums/barrios/favelas around the world, builders lack the heavy equipment or capital to build vertically.  In the twentieth century, the Modernist ideas of organizing low-­income neighborhoods in vertical towers proved to be a general failure. Thus U­TT’s work looks at verticality in a new light – one in which residents are the organizers of their space, and that those spaces remain open to constant modification. Verticality becomes a tool of the community to create new spaces, open up space for new businesses, new recreational facilities, and more.

Since 2007, Brillembourg and Klumpner have taught at Columbia University where they founded the Sustainable Living Urban Model Laboratory (SLUM Lab), and since July 2010, they co-chair the department of Architecture and Urban Design at the Swiss Institute of Technology, ETH, in Zurich.

Their work across the globe, both in practice and in teaching, has provoked significant questions about how we see informal communities and the strategies available to foster safe, sane development.

We had the chance to have an amazing two ­part discussion with Alfredo and Hubert on our podcast, Social Design Insights. Listen to the episodes below.

29 | The New Informal City Part 1
30 | The New Informal City Part 2


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Venezuelan Nights" by Earl Klugh from his album "The Spice of Life."